Having just scanned the #NCFC Twitter timeline I can see I’m far from alone in having woken up this morning wishing it was all a bad dream.
As Saturdays’ go, yesterday was about as bad as it gets; fate continuing to do its worst as City’s season plunged to a new low.
That Paul Lambert chose to prance across the pitch to boisterously celebrate Premier League survival with his new charges merely added salt into an already open wound – magnanimity never one of his finest qualities.
As it happens, that yesterday’s was one of City’s better performances of 2013 is of little consolation; results being everything at this stage of the season, the manner of them almost irrelevant.
Sadly, it was a familiar story with much of the good, high tempo approach play rendered futile with Brad Guzan, in truth, having a fairly quiet 94 minutes. For the second week running an opposition keeper expecting the busiest of afternoons – given the ‘six points’ on offer – would have departed the scene pleasantly surprised; City’s continuing inability to create and convert chances key to their current predicament.
And it’s not as if we haven’t seen it coming. With the ten-game unbeaten run now having taken the form of a spell of light relief from an otherwise dire campaign, City have reached the point of no return – their fate no longer guaranteed to be in their own hands.
For the Yellow Army it’s excruciating to watch; akin to death by a thousand cuts.
Since the New Year, Chris Hughton’s conservative approach has taken on a life of its own and – as highlighted on BBC Radio Norfolk’s McVeigh & Butler last week – leaves little or no margin for error. Games that looked to be heading for draws have ended in defeat in the same way those that appeared ‘there for the taking’ have invariably ended in a point apiece.
The missing elements have been the late winners, the games where victory has been snatched from the jaws of defeat [Everton aside], the days when you come away feeling like the beneficiaries of a daylight robbery. They simply haven’t happened to us – City invariably on the receiving end when late dramas and gift-horses have been on the loose.
And I’m finding it hard to align myself with those who blame rotten luck and not getting the run of the ball for our flirtation with the abyss. Please forgive the clichés, but you really do make your own luck; fortune really does favour the brave.
City have done little to earn either.
A tepid, pragmatic, safety-first approach does little to safeguard against adversity, often leaving you nowhere to go when the brown stuff hits the fan. Those who have played the game – whatever the level – will recall how easy it is to take the foot off the pedal when things are going well, but how nigh on impossible it is to go ‘up a gear’ when you’ve started a game tentatively.
This – in my simple mind – is where Hughton and City find themselves. Not as easy as it sounds of course and in terms of effort and determination it’s hard to fault the players, but chuck the obvious lack of quality in the final third into the mix and you have a problem.
The latest round of flak that’s been fired in Hughton’s direction is surely a culmination of all of the above because, in fairness, I don’t think he did much wrong yesterday. Those who demanded a return to the side for Wes Hoolahan had their wish granted, and for an hour the little Irishman was excellent.
A telling sign with Wes is when he starts giving the ball away – usually a sign of fatigue – and with Grant Holt making obvious to the manager his desire for a strike-partner it made sense to swap Hoolahan for Kei Kamara, and go 4-4-2.
And for a while it looked like working. The equaliser, when it came, was no more than City deserved and – perhaps courtesy of the green and yellow tinted specs – at that stage there only looked to be one winner.
Alas, the rest is history; Gabriel Agbonlahor’s speed and ability to finish being the obvious difference between the two sides on an afternoon that exposed City’s deficiency in both.
So, while things – as they stand – look bleaker than bleak, let’s hope there is still a twist or two left. With Wigan doing their ‘usual’ – late-season wins almost a given – Newcastle now hit the City radar. Next Sunday’s away-game at Loftus Road will give them hope, but a final day visit from Arsenal looks tricky to say the least; albeit less daunting than a trip to the Etihad.
With a nerve-jangling week ahead, Hughton has to somehow inspire his players to go again. Whether more of the same will be enough to beat West Brom remains to be seen and probably depends on the mindset of the West-Midlanders, who now look unlikely to finish higher or lower than 8th.
That City’s fate rests on the attitude of opposition and results elsewhere speaks volumes. The numerous opportunities they have had to put this season to bed have been missed and now we’re all paying the price.
Not nice is it.
FOLLOW US ON TWITTER